Systematic Problem-Solving Sequence

Problems happen all the time. How we choose to respond is a major factor in determining how badly we will be affected by any given problem. I would argue that a systematic response is best, and furthermore, I propose a 9-stage sequence (including root cause analysis) as discussed in this article.

If you are already familiar with other problem-solving methodologies, like 8D or DMAIC, some aspects of the recommended sequence may seem familiar to you. I believe the sequence proposed below is more comprehensive than either of those, but is also compatible with them.

There are 9 stages in the sequence. However, instead of thinking of them as 9 independent entities, I tend to see them as 3 groups of 3:

EXECUTE REVIEW ADJUST... (Corrective Action)

Much more could be written about these groupings, and the problem solving sequence in general, but I'll let it go for now. Just keep in mind the intent of presenting such a thing is to provide a structured framework for solving problems, not to box you in or limit you unnecessarily. Please use this if you think it will be helpful, but adjust it as needed to fit the situation.

  1. RESPOND - Respond to the problem: address injury/damage that has already been caused, make appropriate notifications, preserve/quarantine evidence to the extent possible, initiate cleanup actions.
  2. MITIGATE - Mitigate the immediate causes: take action to reduce the production and/or release of the bad thing, enhance protections against it, find a way to eliminate it or minimize it.
  3. ASSESS - Assess risk: determine extent of condition, review adequacy of measures in place, assess risk of further harm, decide if deeper analysis required.
  4. INVESTIGATE - Investigate the how: track the actual sequence of events, figure out what changes of state took place, determine what "script" could be followed to reproduce the problem as it actually occurred.
  5. ANALYZE - Analyze the why: break down the "script" and find its critical points, figure out what should have happened, find the gaps between actual and expected, uncover key forcing factors, identify root causes, and determine if the root causes for this occurrence could exist elsewhere.
  6. DESIGN - Design the solution: find the weaknesses, pick the points of most leverage, develop solution options, decide on best combination of actions, validate the plan, get buy-in and funding.
  7. EXECUTE - Execute the plan: develop timeline, obtain materials, marshall resources, initiate action, monitor performance, verify completion.
  8. REVIEW - Review effectiveness: check for recurrence of original problem, check for instances of related problems, verify actions taken still relevant, assess continued risk.
  9. ADJUST - Adjust the plan: address deficiencies in execution, assess effects of changes from outside the plan, identify new/revised actions needed to ensure effectiveness.

Stages 4 - 6 above are discussed more thoroughly in Phases of Root Cause Analysis... however, note that the phase previously referred to as Decide is now designated Design. I just thought Design captured the intent better.

by Bill Wilson
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Last updated: November 24, 2014 at 15:45 pm

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